Lawsuit is settled, but not the dispute
WILLMAR -- The lawsuit may be settled, but the man who initiated it does not believe the dispute over replacing bridges over Hawk Creek is resolved. Owen Gustafson, a Maynard area farmer, said he believes that the costs for replacing bridges agai...
WILLMAR -- The lawsuit may be settled, but the man who initiated it does not believe the dispute over replacing bridges over Hawk Creek is resolved.
Owen Gustafson, a Maynard area farmer, said he believes that the costs for replacing bridges against the recommendation of engineers will lead those paying the bill to stop the practice. Taxpayers in Willmar who may never use the bridges are paying nearly 10 times more than they should, he said.
The Joint Ditch 7 Authority for Hawk Creek voted 4-1 on April 15 to replace an aged bridge in Lone Tree Township of Chippewa County with a bridge. The engineer's estimate indicated that the authority would need to assess an estimated $201,500 to benefiting landowners for the cost of the bridge, as compared to $25,000 for installing three 12-foot-by-12-foot culverts.
The bridge itself would cost an estimated $389,212 as compared to an estimated $212,000 for the culverts. An expected $176,500 in state funds makes up the difference. Project Engineer Peter Sarberg of Widseth, Smith and Nolting of Alexandria had reported that the performance of the culverts or bridge would be the same.
No date has been set for calling for construction bids on the project.
Gustafson said he is still hopeful that public awareness of the issue may lead county commissioners to reconsider the matter. He pointed out that the city of Willmar is assessed nearly $50,000 toward the costs of replacing each township bridge over Hawk Creek. There are 10 bridges along the system built at roughly the same time and expected to be in need of replacement in upcoming years.
Gustafson said he also believes that more accountability and public discussion is needed. He said the alleged Open Meeting Law violation is indicative of a practice of not fully informing and involving the public.
He said he became convinced of that when he received his first notice about the meeting to vote on the Lone Tree Township project. It only mentioned the engineer's recommendation to add culverts, when Gustafson said he already had learned that the board members were intending to vote in favor of a bridge.
Gustafson was successful in requiring that a second notice be sent that made mention of both a bridge or culverts as options. At his urging, he said an initial draft of the new meeting notice also included financial numbers that showed the difference in estimated costs between the two options. The draft was sent to members of the ditch authority board for review. The notice that went to landowners did not include the numbers or comparison.
"To me that is worse than the violation of the Open Meeting Law,'' said Gustafson. "At least tell the public.''